THE RHYTHMS OF FRIENDSHIP
Three Important Things You Should Know about Friendship
A couple of years ago, my buddy and I were hiking with a group of people through a section of the Western Ghats outside Mumbai. Somewhere along the way, my friend had the bright idea to take a “shortcut” to the waterfall we were hiking to. We were a little behind the group, so no one saw us suddenly dart up another path on the side of the mountain. (Just to be clear, I thought this was a stupid idea.) So after an hour of hiking that path, we both found ourselves hopelessly lost. Another hour passed, and we had just sat down to eat our sandwiches and figure out what we needed to do, when out of the trees, our hiking coordinator came storming up the path. With a liberal volley of choice abuses that shall be censored out of concern of our readership, we received a hearty reprimand for… well, our stupidity.
A short walk later, we got to the waterfall in five minutes. My friend and fellow-pathfinder chose that moment to decide (out loud) that his “shortcut” was legitimate after all! To this, the hiking coordinator replied – again with a liberal choice of abuses - (in words that could turn a sailor’s ears pink) that the group had been there for two hours. If we had just followed the path like we were supposed to, we would have actually been there in five minutes. It’s pretty depressing when we you realize you had been wandering around our your destination for hours without actually being able to reach it.
Looking back on that moment, it was pretty silly. But at the same time, that became a story that bonded my friend and I together. Yeah, we got banned from hikes for a month. Yeah, we probably made that group of people quite angry. Yeah, that hiking coordinator never got to enjoy a swim under the waterfall. But you know what? That was our story.
1. Friends are pretty awesome, but they’re not perfect.
As Proverbs 18:24 says, “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” It’s an amazing thing to have a real friend- a close brother or sister. It’s an amazing gift to keep company with someone in those seasons when you’re lost and feeling a bit out of it. It’s liberating, not just when you have someone to pull you out of the mess you’re in, but when you know that the same person has been wading in the mess with you for some time.
In this culture of counterfeit relationships and manufactured experiences, we would kill for a real friend- not just someone who’s around because of something you can do for them.
But at the same time, there’s no friend that I have (and I have some pretty amazing friends) that can be there for me whenever I’m down 24/7. There’s no friend on this side of eternity that is 100% there whenever I need them. Maybe if there’s a serious crisis in my life, they’ll definitely be there, but most of the time, in this busy city we live in, I get to spend close time with my friends maybe every few weeks or so.
And more than that, everyone falls short. Even close friends find it difficult to understand the truest depths of the heart or the sin that lurks beneath the surface. We can’t put on our friends a demand for hope and joy they were never meant to fulfil. Even though we sometimes get really burned out on friends when they’re not able to understand and help us completely, the simple truth is, they were never really meant to.
2. Our friendships are meant to reflect the Divine Friendship between God and humanity.
But as the Proverb says, “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” One of my favourite verses in Scripture comes from Psalm 27:8:
My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with Me.”
My heart responds, “Lord, I’m coming.”
That’s beautiful, isn’t it? That’s the language of relationship that we’ve forgotten. We forget that God’s primary disposition towards us isn’t “Master-Servant” but more importantly,is “Friend-Friend” or “Father-Child”. As Jesus says in John 15, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” This is not to say that we don’t serve the Lord. We do. We just do it as friends serve one another or as a child serves in his or her Father’s house- not as hired hands or servants, but as part of the family.
That’s the main thing. Our friendship with God is the ultimate Friendship. We’re meant to be living in this everyday. At the risk of making this spouting another Christian cliché, God is The the Friend. He’s the One who pulls us out of the mess, and He never leaves our side as we are wading through the worst of it. He’s the One who’s calling our names in the valleys of the shadow of death, and He’s the One who’s celebrating when we make it to the mountaintop. He’s the One who sticks through every moment of our lives and who invites us to daily talk with Him and live in relationship with Him.
The problem is that for many of us who were raised up in moralistic background that told us that God only loves those who keep His commands, it’s difficult to relate to God as a friend if we’re not doing everything in life right. That, apparently, means no sin. No pornography, no lust, no anger, no gossip, no cynicism, no drinking, no smoking, etc, etc- you have to be perfect to earn the friendship of be God, because God is perfect.
Only problem is, this automatically rules out 100% of all human beings. Christian or otherwise.
But you know what? They’re right- but only in one sense. You do have to be perfect, holy, righteous and without blemish to be called God’s friend.
How can we ever, ever be that, you ask? What do you have to do for it, you wish to know?
That’s the beauty of it. There’s literally nothing that you can do to make yourself perfect. Jesus already has done it. On the cross, He took the penalty of sin and death and exchanged our place with His. He took on our sin and put on us His perfection. So in all of us who follow Him, perfection is at work. Yes, we still live in a fleshly body and a broken mind that still operate according to selfishness and need to be brought under self-control- and sometimes, we may even give into a sudden, sinful impulse. But the reality is this- we are new creations that have access to God’s presence and have power over sin. Because of that, there’s always hope for forgiveness in His presence.
We’re new creations.
And that’s why we get to be His sons, daughters and friends.
3. Friendship is a discipline. The way we practice friendships can help us remember our Divine Friendship with God.
But it’s hard to remember this. It’s hard when all your circumstances- your internal and external situations- are trying to inform you that you’re all alone in the world and you have every right to sulk and simmer and feel sorry for yourself.
That’s why we need certain reminders in place to show us that we get a daily invitation of Divine Friendship with God. Our everyday friends can help us do that. , and a few disciplines to keep in mind in sailing these waters:Here’s what we can do to remind ourselves of the Divine Friendship through our friends today.
1: Keep good friends close – especially those who want you to flourish.
I know it’s another cliché, but it’s true. Keep friends around you who are not afraid to call you out on your junk- even if they get it wrong sometimes. It’s better to have a friend who sometimes says the wrong thing out of love for you than to have a friend who says the right thing but really only cares for themselves. A good friend has no desire to see you waste away your life. A selfish one, however, couldn’t care less.
2: Spend regular downtime with your friends.
There is a time to sit and talk and wrestle with the Gospel together, but that’s not meant to happen separate from life. We’re called to do life together. Work out together, eat together, go on vacations together, go watch a movie together, play Scattergories together, go somewhere and unwind together- that too is holy in God’s eyes and is a spiritual discipline. So as Romans tells us, “Let love be genuine. Love one another with brotherly affection.”
3: Practice conflict resolution rightly
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you will have conflicts in your relationships. Your only choice in the matter is this- you can either work to resolve the conflict, or you can let the friendship wither. That’ll show how much you value friendship in the first place. How does conflict resolution happen though? First, listen to one another and enter in with love. Establish the facts so you’re both on the same page. Share how you felt – not what you assumed the other person was trying to do. Think about what the conflict says about your identity. Ask yourself, what does God want to reveal to you through the experience? (No, the answer is not how much is wrong with the other person. He is well aware of all that and already dealing with it. But what He is dealing with in having you ask this question is about you.)
After a couple of these, you’ll become a pro. Just remember- conflict will happen, and right conflict resolution makes friendships stronger, not weaker.
Here’s the double win: not only will your friendships get stronger, but the conflict will more than likely draw out a heart idol in both persons’ hearts. If you choose to embrace God’s grace and goodness in that moment, that’s one step closer to a greater awareness of God’s joy in your life. So God actually wants us to live in friendship with other people because the inevitable conflict resolution conversations can actually help us grow and ultimately understand God’s goodness.
Keep Company with Jesus
All of this helps us to become better friends not only to one another but with God. We begin to understand Him better. We begin to see His grace and joy in operation in our lives, and we begin to see just how much we need to keep God close, spend regular downtime with Him and confess and repent of our sins with Him. Again and One of Jesus’s most favorite things to say to His disciples, His primary call towards us, is simply “Come to me. Keep company with me.” Let’s not disappoint. Let’s not keep Him waiting.